It’s The Same Song Again Tonight

Originally posted January 3, 2008

One of the things I sometimes wonder about: How hard must it be to perform the same songs, usually in the same way, night after night? When I saw Paul McCartney in 2002, he’d added to the set list some Beatles’ tunes he’d either not performed before or hadn’t performed in a long time, “Eleanor Rigby” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.” among them. But he was still performing “Hey Jude,” and I doubt a concert goes by when he’s not required by audience expectations to sing “Yesterday,” a song now nearly forty-three years old

I thought of that the two times I saw Bob Dylan, too, wondering which songs would be on his essential list every evening. Dylan can be unpredictable, but even so, I would guess that hit set lists nearly always include “Like A Rolling Stone,” also recorded forty-three years ago.

For performers like McCartney and Dylan, at least, the catalog of available songs is deep enough that a good portion of the set list can be changed and still be familiar to the audience (though I would think some songs would always be expected). But for performers without such deep catalogs, it must get tiring. I thought of that the two times I saw Don McLean, once here in St. Cloud and once in Missouri: How tired is he of singing “American Pie”? Weary, I imagine, and it seemed like it in 1987 when I saw him at St. Cloud State; his performance of the song was a bit perfunctory. Three years later, I saw him in a small club-like venue in Columbia, Missouri, and he was far more into the entire show, including “American Pie.”

I’ve never seen Glen Campbell in concert, but I imagine he deals with the same difficulty: Making songs he’s sung thousands of times seem fresh for new audiences, including “Galveston,” featured here yesterday. But I would guess that, if music and performing is your job, you find ways to make the tunes fresh. The video I found for today shows Campbell backed by a band during a televised performance of “Galveston.” There is a crawl that apologizes for audio difficulty, but beyond the sound being a bit thin, I don’t hear any problems. Without knowing for sure, the clip looks like it came from a fundraiser, perhaps for a public television station.

At any rate, based on the hair and the styles, it dates from the late 1960s or early 1970s, about the time when Galveston went to No. 4. And it’s a pretty good performance.

Video deleted.

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